Having a native client for your service is crucial for leveraging the usage and the quality of contents in the service. For a social network like Twitter, it is a mandatory. Thankfully, we have Tweetbot for iOS and Mac to fill the gap.
Until today, we haven't seen a publicly available App.net clients for iOS. While it is true that some users were lucky enough to get into the limited slots in TestFlight beta tester program for several upcoming App.net iOS clients, I believe most would appreciate it if an app is publicly available in the App Store.
Fortunately, AppNet Rhino was released today, officially becoming the first App.net client available on the App Store. Created by Goran Vuksic of Planet1107 and designed by Marko Prljic of TwinkleTap, AppNet Rhino brings some of the basic functionalities of App.net.
Immediately after logging in with your App.net account, you will be redirected to Global Stream. Afterwards, you can switch to any of the other three tabs, i.e. your timeline, your mentions and your profile. This is very similar to the current Alpha reference implementation for the web client of App.net.
Current Features Set
As you would expect from an App.net client, you can pull to refresh to update your timeline and most other feeds. Even though it's less responsive and occassionally fails, it still is acceptable.
If you notice an orange triangle on the bottom right corner of a post in a timeline view, that means you can tap the post to view a conversational overview. The orange triangle is used to distinguish posts that are parts of a conversation from the ones that have no replies.
To reply to a post, you can perform the swipe to right gesture. This will show a reply button that you can click to either write a reply or a reply to all post. You can do this in various timeline views, except for the conversational overview. This is a bit annoying if you're trying to reply to a post made by someone you do not follow, mentioning you. In this first version, you would need to go to your mentions tab to post the reply.
AppNet Rhino allows you to easily make a new post by tapping the writepad icon on the top right corner of your timeline and global tabs. Taking cues from Tweetbot for iOS, this could be improved by providing such access to the mentions tab as well.
Among many other possible features, the developers chose to support YouTube thumbnail previews. If your post contains a full link to a YouTube video, AppNet Rhino will display a thumbnail image previewing that video. After confirming with the Goran Vuksic via Twitter, this feature works only with full links and not shortened ones.
My personal favorite feature from this release is the nice hashtag support within the app. You can tap on a hashtag to see the posts that are marked with it. This is an acceptable temporary replacement for the lack of the search feature. Unlike the conversational overview, you can swipe and reply to other users' posts here.
Rooms for Improvement
AppNet Rhino is obviously an Alpha/Beta app for an Alpha service. If its main goal is to publish a working iOS client as soon as possible to allow as many App.net users as possible to have access to it, I believe the developers have been successful. If the developers are trying to create one of the best App.net clients for iOS then there are still a lot of room for improvement.
Here are some of the possible features that I can think off the top of my head: repost feature, copy post contents (quote post), URL shorteners, search feature, live feed streaming, image/video attachments, gestures, push notifications, mute filters, integration to other services, drafts, and support for multiple accounts.
These features are commonly seen in typical Twitter clients, but I believe that there are also other App.net specific opportunities. Browsing through the open API spec and reading the latest announcement on annotations made me believe that App.net a promising service, and I'm looking forward to the upcoming updates of AppNet Rhino.
While App.net is a paid service, AppNet Rhino is a free app. In a recent interview with netocratic, Goran mentioned that AppNet Rhino will:
".. stay that way as long as the team doesn't think it has enough features and isn't a polished enough product"
When I asked Goran on Twitter whether he is planning to release a Pro (paid) version as a separate app, an in-app purchase, or increase AppNet Rhino's price later, he answered:
"That is yet to be decided. To be honest, we don't think much about it. Now we focus on updates to bring more features and to make this a great client."
With a maximum of 12,000 potential users, developers are being forced to think really hard about their business model. I personally don't think that setting the price of your app for $4.99 later would really help covering the development cost.
Overall, I think AppNet Rhino is an acceptable App.net client. As this is the first publicly available iOS client, I welcome it -- in fact, I have put it on my home screen. This could be the major breakthrough that would make many users start using App.net while they're on the go. If you're an App.net user that has been waiting for an iOS client on the App Store then I highly suggest you get AppNet Rhino. I sincerely hope the upcoming versions will catch up on the lack of features and have a sustainable revenue model to support the development process.
Finally if you're an App.net user, follow me at @epramono and the official developer account, @planet1107. If you haven't joined App.net, you might want to visit join.app.net to learn more about the service and reserve your username.